Cannabis topicals might not sound like the most intuitive treatment for arthritis. However, recent research — and years of my own work as a nurse and massage therapist — show that the plant has much to offer people who are living with this condition.
Arthritis is a disorder of the joints in the body that causes painful inflammation. The neck, shoulders, hands, spinal column, hips, knees, and ankles are some of our most notable joints — and they’re all common sources of pain. Arthritis is neither age nor gender specific. The inflammation caused by arthritis results in joint stiffness, swelling, redness, and the area can often be warm to the touch. 100 types of arthritis have now been identified and over 300 million people worldwide are plagued daily by this type of pain.
Clinical research studies regarding cannabis topicals and arthritis are still in their infancy. Recent findings show cannabinoids exhibit anti-inflammatory effects by activating cannabinoid type 2 receptors (CB2.) These receptors are part of the endocannabinoid system. Our endocannabinoid systems’ primary goal is cellular homeostasis, or balance. Our bodies naturally produce chemicals called endocannabinoids (which are nearly identical to chemicals produced in the cannabis plant, called cannabinoids) in an effort to activate these receptors. When a cannabis topical is applied to an inflamed area where CB2 receptors are present, the cannabinoids stimulate an anti-inflammatory response.
This is the science behind using cannabis topicals to treat arthritis, but the anecdotal evidence can be just as compelling. Throughout my career, I’ve seen firsthand the ways in which they can transform people’s lives. I’ve also had to answer a lot of questions about how and why they work — here are some of the most common ones.
What’s the first question most arthritis patients have about medicinal cannabis topicals?
At my massage studio, the number one question we receive is, “will this be effective for my arthritis?” We are proud to report that since starting our work with cannabis topicals in 2014 we have been able to provide alleviation of various acute and chronic arthritis symptoms in 100 percent of the patients we have seen for various forms of arthritis. Most commonly we see rheumatoid arthritis patients. We have seen all levels of severity, from patients still attempting 5k marathons to patients that have been confined to a wheelchair. No matter the level of severity, these patients have felt some form of relief.
What are the benefits of cannabis-based products for people with rheumatoid arthritis and similar conditions?
The first notable sign of relief from cannabis topicals is the dissipation of pain, followed by a decrease in swelling to the joint structure and surrounding tissues. CBD and the terpenoids associated with cannabis (which are also found in essential oils) have been shown to decrease inflammation, which is the primary symptom of arthritis.
Are there major side effects?
There are no notable side effects from the use of topicals for arthritis. We have worked on thousands of patients with various conditions over the years and we are able to report no side effects from the use of cannabis topicals on any of our patients.
Do your cannabis topicals include both THC and CBD?
The topicals that we have available for purchase are a line specifically designed for purchase anywhere. Due to current laws it would be illegal for our topicals to leave state lines if they contain THC, so our products are CBD only. We use third party testing to ensure the THC threshold is below 0.3 percent, which is the current legal limit.
How can cannabis topicals help reduce inflammation and discomfort from arthritis?
The best part about cannabis topicals is the ability for the patient to have them at home. Dependent on the area of inflammation, they do not necessarily require someone else to apply the product, such as a family member or licensed caregiver. As soon as the person begins feeling pain they can apply the product to the area causing discomfort.
Our patients have reported a need for re-application once the body has metabolized an application. Some patients apply 2-3 times daily for relief with no side effects, making the use of cannabis topicals a far better option than OTC (over the counter) and prescription pharmaceuticals, which are known to cause liver and kidney damage — especially at similar rates of application.
What are the most important things to look for in a cannabis topical?
My best advice is to look for a product that is as pure as possible. It is important to keep in mind that our skin is our largest organ, so we should be reading labels on skin care products the same way we should be for the food we eat. Products should not contain dyes, sulfates, parabens, artificial fragrances, or any chemical based ingredients. Seek out products that have fewer ingredients, and make sure they are ingredients you can pronounce and recognize. It is important to understand what you are applying to your skin, which is why our products are made with whole plant ingredients. We work with several other herbs in conjunction with cannabis to provide the most therapeutic effects possible.
Any final advice on cannabis topicals and arthritis?
If you are curious about topicals, ask questions. If you already receive regular massage therapy sessions, consider purchasing high quality topicals and asking your therapist if they are comfortable applying them in your next session. Feeling the difference that plant medicine can make is what will make you a believer.